Shows that make culture make sense

Curated by T.H. Ponders, the creator of Accession

T.H. Ponders is the podnaut behind Accession, which is preparing to launch its second season in fall 2019. Here they present a playlist of podcasts that help their listeners learn how to engage with culture.

Let me clue you in on a secret, one that the academics and critics may not want you to know. Art belongs to you. Culture belongs to all of us. There is no threshold of knowledge or skill that you need to engage with culture. To go to an art museum and snide that your “five year old could make that” is just as valid an experience as someone who stares longingly into a black square on a black square for a few hours and portends to have “felt something.”

And this is the case because (and here’s another secret for you) culture isn’t about what you bring to it. It’s about what you take from it, or rather, what it takes from you. It just so happens that what you bring to it can affect what you take away. You have to meet the art as much as the art has to meet you. That’s what makes engaging with culture a valuable human experience.

But there are those who would argue that you are incapable of meeting the art, and that you need it to be brought to you. We call these people gatekeepers and they have podcasts too. As such, I shy away from culture podcasts who claim to “give” me culture. It is not theirs to give. Rather, I try to listen to—and make—podcasts that give me the tools to approach a piece of culture, better understand it, and better understand myself. Below I’ve curated a list of podcasts that not only brilliantly discuss culture, but have helped me discover tools to better engage with it, and get more out of it. I hope they do the same for you.  

View, follow, and listen to the whole collection of shows on RadioPublic, available on iPhone and Android.

Storytelling: Accession

At the heart of Accession, as well as the heart of so many of these shows, is storytelling, the tool by which we can connect our own stories to the stories of others. Each episode picks a piece of art and finds the story, whatever that story may be, that helps us best understand it. It can be historical, biographical, a sports mockumentary, or a series of love letters. There is no one way to tell a story about art, and the show flourishes in exploring that truth.

Friendship: Blockbuster

Collaboration and friendship is the core of Blockbuster by Matt Schrader. Blockbuster is a narrated, full-cast biopic, with actors dawning the mantles of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and John Williams, as the three men radically change the Hollywood landscape with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and of course, Star Wars. Schrader really focuses in on the friendship and collaboration of these three men, and shows just how much they relied on each other, not only as technical filmmakers, but as people with whom they could trust their stories.

Perspective: History is Gay

In each episode of History is Gay, hosts Leigh and Gretchen take a look at a different slice of history, specifically from a queer perspective, to show that our past isn’t quite as straightforward as it usually gets presented. At its core, the show is about celebrating the stories that have gone unacknowledged by the mainstream. And what’s more, the episodes are not presented as revisionist or reductive but additive and uplifting.

Joy: Playing for Fun

So much of the media we have that discusses culture is mired down in a sort of negativity that mistakes pedantic criticism for intelligence. That is where Playing for Fun draws a line in the sand. Each episode of playing for fun hears hosts Myke Hurley and Tiffany Arment discuss only the video games that they absolutely love. What results is a refreshing radical optimism that carries into the streaming and community that has been built around the show.

Inquisitiveness: The Stoop

Whether we’re looking for culture or making culture or understanding culture, it always begins with a question. What that question is will be different for each individual, but that inquisitiveness pull us along. Each episode of The Stoop, hosted by Hana Baba and Leila Day, starts with a question and goes deep. Soundscaped storytelling with insightful interviews framed by the casual conversation of Baba and Day makes these stories compelling, empathetic, and illuminating.

Empathy: Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services

When we approach a piece of culture, we are being given a gift, something delicate that we must treat with an initial respect and dignity, the same way Kalila approaches her patients. Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services, by Lisette Alvarez, follows a young witch who is trying to start a medical practice of their own. Each episode brings a unique case, requiring Kalila to listen and understand what the patient is really looking for in their care. It is carefully crafted, masterfully written, and teeming with the kind of empathy we can only hope to bring to our lives and cultures.

Nuance: Dissect

Dissect is the kind of music podcast that, as the title suggests, goes much deeper than the surface. Each season, host Cole Cuchna picks a different album and breaks it down track by track, line by line, beat by beat, until a more comprehensive understanding of the album is obtained by truly understanding all of its constituent parts. This show is exegesis at its finest, reveling in the beauty of each detail that these albums have to offer their listeners.

Choice: Articles of Interest

There is so much culture out there, in so many different mediums and styles and genres; how is one to choose? Through investigation of the fashion world, the brilliant Articles of Interest, by Avery Trufelman, comes to the conclusion that conscientious, informed, and thoughtful choice is the best way to make our fashion our own. And whether we can extend this lesson to other forms of culture or not, Articles of Interest is certainly the thoughtful choice for your next listening experience.

Translation: Aria Code

Few forms of culture present a more imdominable wall of obstacles for the casual 21st century consumer like opera. And yet, Aria Code translates the language, story, and musical style of opera into relatable narratives for the present day. Each episode picks a piece and presents interviews with three to four guests who are experts on that piece, whose intimate familiarity with the music and its culture breaks down the complexities of the genre. Aria Code makes the foreign familiar, through careful translation and meaningful dialogue.

Adventure: StarTripper!!

Of course, none of these tools are useful if you don’t get out of their and go seek out culture. Whether it’s going to a museum, finding new music on your preferred streaming service, or selling all your earthly possessions to buy a Physiclast QCS-25 K-series ship and sailing the stars in search of the best experiences the universe has to offer. Produced by Julian Mundy and Whisperforge Productions, StarTripper!! takes us along on the intergalactic travels of Feston Pixus, in an audio comedy full of adventure, mishaps, and self-discovery.


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